New Hampshire college students can still vote in state, for now

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 7:01 PM

A controversial move by New Hampshire Republicans to prohibit voting by many of the state's college students appears to be dead - at least for now.

The measure gained national notice, thanks in part to a YouTube video of the state's new GOP House speaker declaring students "foolish" because they are "liberal" and "just vote their feelings." The sponsor of the measure went further in his denunciations of college students, declaring that they turn out in college towns on Election Day and cancel out other voters, motivated by a "dearth of experience and a plethora of the easy self-confidence that only ignorance and inexperience can produce."

On Wednesday, after a lengthy debate, the state House Election Law Committee voted 13 to 5 to recommend that the full House not pass the bill, which in effect kills the idea, according to the panel's GOP chairman, Rep. David Bates.

The measure proposed permitting students to vote in their college towns only if they or their parents had previously established permanent residency there, requiring all others to vote in the states or other New Hampshire towns they come from.

Lawmakers "just wanted to distance themselves completely from that particular bill," Bates said in an interview Thursday morning. "Its fate is sealed."

"Everyone was completely in agreement that the bill as written was unconstitutional," Bates added.

Still, the idea is not totally gone.

Bates said that the question of voter residency remained a top priority for the GOP leadership and that it would be considered along with other measures being discussed to prevent voter fraud, including a plan to require some form of voter identification at the polls.

The committee plans hearings over the summer to explore the broader questions and will come back with proposals in January - plenty of time to change the laws before the November 2012 general election.

Those ideas are among dozens of bills being pushed by newly empowered GOP state lawmakers across the country that they say are designed to crack down on fraud. Democrats and voting rights groups say the bills would disproportionately affect young people and minorities and have more to do with blocking ballot access for core Democratic voters.

Rock the Vote, a youth voter registration group, has called it a "war on voting." A blog post early Thursday by the group's vice president, Thomas Bates, hailed the demise of the New Hampshire college voting bill as a "victory for the good guys."

Another measure to end New Hampshire's practice of same-day registration, a tradition that state House Speaker William O'Brien said allows large numbers of students to show up on Election Day and cast ballots, also failed on a unanimous committee vote Wednesday. Rep. David Bates said that measure would probably never come back.

The voting measures resulted in lengthy debates, Rep. Bates added. But no discussion Wednesday took as long as the one about whether to require presidential candidates to show their birth certificates to prove eligibility. That measure also failed.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company